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Devastation in Haiti

While all eyes are on Haiti in the wake of a devastating earthquake, for some Irontonians, footage of the wreckage illustrates far more than just another third world country in need.

“I thought, how horrible it is,” said Dennis Strawn, the pastor of First Baptist Church of Ironton. “It’d be horrible anywhere but there where it’s so impoverished, just the basic things we take for granted like medical care (are not available). Even just going through the night would be horrific.”

The island nation of Haiti suffered a 7.0 magnitude earthquake near its capital city of Port-au-Prince.

Strawn spent a year in the 1980s volunteering at Good Samaritan Hospital in Limbe, Haiti, about 140 miles north of Port-au-Prince.

National news outlets are reporting that hundreds and thousands of people have died and much of the city has been destroyed.

“I can’t imagine (the destruction),” Strawn said. “This is going to take a long time to recover from. Haiti doesn’t have any real infrastructure. They don’t have teams that can go out and rescue. Even the hospitals are missionary hospitals. They would have limited beds and resources.”

Strawn, who still has friends living in the country, stayed up late Tuesday night watching news reports of the devastation.

What makes the quake even harder to take for Haiti is not only the lack of infrastructure but the way that buildings are constructed, he said.

“They don’t build like we do because the ground doesn’t freeze,” Strawn said. Instead, construction workers there might pour a concrete foundation and build on it, rather than digging to build the foundation.

“Just from the few pictures that I saw, the presidential palace is a wreck,” he said, adding that the government does not have much resource for reconstructing it.

Even before the earthquake, Strawn recalled that the conditions in Haiti were drastically different from the United States.

“It’s a totally different world from here,” he said. “The roads go to pot because there are no crews that go out and repair them. The unemployment rate is so high they prey on any job they can get. I believe that it is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.”

Like Strawn, 23-year-old Amanda Hill will always have a special place in her heart for Haiti. The college student, an Indiana resident who is the grand daughter of Kitts Hill residents Mike and Kay Shannon, has been to the country nine times over the past five years.

“(I went) the first time back in (2004) and I don’t know, I got to develop relationships with a lot of people down there,” she said. “I really just feel like it’s a place I’ve been called to help.”

Hill has gone to Haiti for mission trips with Sundouloi Ministires. The organization does medical and dental missions as well as construction projects among other things.

“She just loves the people of Haiti,” Kay Shannon said. “She certainly has a loving heart for those people.”

Hill loves the people of Haiti so much that she is planning another trip there in April.

“I can’t stay away,” she said. “It’s like a second family to me. Watching it has been devastating. I just want to hop on a plane and travel there.”

Hill recalled when her father called and told her of the quake. She was on her way to a class Tuesday evening. As soon as the class was over she ran to a building nearby with a television set and tuned into the news.

Then, “I started calling people,” she recalled. “It took a long time for us to get (confirmation) that most of them had survived.”

Strawn’s church — as a part of the American Baptist denomination- already takes up an offering for disasters such as this one. Strawn said he was glad that there is already money on hand to help.

“I would say find a way to give if you can give,” he said. “There’s going to be great need.”

The ministry that Hill works with, too, is starting a relief effort for the victims of the earthquake.

“Just anything that people can do, whether donations or prayer, I know Haiti is in desperate need of that,” she said.